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Robert J. Sawyer, the award-winning and bestselling writer, hits the peak of his powers in Humans, the second book of The Neanderthal Parallax, his trilogy about our world and parallel one in which it was the Homo sapiens who died out and the Neanderthals who became the dominant intelligent species. This powerful idea allows Sawyer to examine some of the deeply rooted assumptions of contemporary human civilization dramatically, by confronting us with another civilization, just as morally valid, that has made other choices. In Humans, Neanderthal physicist Ponter Boddit, a character you will never forget, returns to our world and to his relationship with geneticist Mary Vaughan, as cultural exchanges between the two Earths begin.

As we see daily life in another present-day world, radically different from ours, in the course of Sawyer's fast-moving story, we experience the bursts of wonder and enlightenment that are the finest pleasures of science fiction. Humans is one of the best SF novels of the year, and The Neanderthal Parallax is an SF classic in the making.

Humans is a 2004 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel.

334 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2003

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About the author

Robert J. Sawyer

216 books2,214 followers
Robert J. Sawyer is one of Canada's best known and most successful science fiction writers. He is the only Canadian (and one of only 7 writers in the world) to have won all three of the top international awards for science fiction: the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan.
Robert Sawyer grew up in Toronto, the son of two university professors. He credits two of his favourite shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Search and Star Trek, with teaching him some of the fundamentals of the science-fiction craft. Sawyer was obsessed with outer space from a young age, and he vividly remembers watching the televised Apollo missions. He claims to have watched the 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey 25 times. He began writing science fiction in a high school club, which he co-founded, NASFA (Northview Academy Association of Science Fiction Addicts). Sawyer graduated in 1982 from the Radio and Television Arts Program at Ryerson University, where he later worked as an instructor.

Sawyer's first published book, Golden Fleece (1989), is an adaptation of short stories that had previously appeared in the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This book won the Aurora Award for the best Canadian science-fiction novel in English. In the early 1990s Sawyer went on to publish his inventive Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, about a world of intelligent dinosaurs. His 1995 award winning The Terminal Experiment confirmed his place as a major international science-fiction writer.

A prolific writer, Sawyer has published more than 10 novels, plus two trilogies. Reviewers praise Sawyer for his concise prose, which has been compared to that of the science-fiction master Isaac Asimov. Like many science fiction-writers, Sawyer welcomes the opportunities his chosen genre provides for exploring ideas. The first book of his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, Hominids (2002), is set in a near-future society, in which a quantum computing experiment brings a Neanderthal scientist from a parallel Earth to ours. His 2006 Mindscan explores the possibility of transferring human consciousness into a mechanical body, and the ensuing ethical, legal, and societal ramifications.

A passionate advocate for science fiction, Sawyer teaches creative writing and appears frequently in the media to discuss his genre. He prefers the label "philosophical fiction," and in no way sees himself as a predictor of the future. His mission statement for his writing is "To combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic."


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 280 reviews
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,186 followers
September 19, 2022
Caroline Cameron Sportsnet GIF - CarolineCameron Sportsnet Awful GIFs
The sequel that should never have been written

I loved Hominids. I finished it two nights ago and immediately started Humans, thinking I was in for more bold ideas, fascinating scientific theories and hypotheses, and philosophical discussions. I wanted to stay in the world Robert J Sawyer created, where a portal has been opened into a parallel universe where the Neanderthals are the humans who survived while we went extinct.

That book was fabulous. This one?

So Bad GIF - SoBad GIFs

Here are some reasons why (note, my complaints might include a spoiler so be advised if you continue and haven't yet read the book):

1.  It focuses almost exclusively on the relationship between Mary and Ponter, with hardly anything scientific. And it was so, so, so bad. Wow. 

Mary is a world-renowned geneticist approaching 40 but she comes across as a giggling teenager whenever Ponter the Neanderthal is around. They have sex..... and I won't even get into how terrible that was. 

And let's just get this out of the way. What the fuck is it with size???

Guys, as a lesbian I can assure you: size doesn't matter if you know what you're doing. It's your imagination that women sit around and obsess over dick size. You might, but women do not. 

Only in bad fiction do women obsess over size and that's what Mary does in this book. She remembers her husband and how his penis "hadn’t been long enough to really please her" and she hopes Ponter will be huge, huge, huge.  "She was suddenly desperate to see it... his massive organ."

Later she couldn't stop staring at it because he was quite nicely hung". He was "massive - thick and long."

Eye Roll Annoyed GIF - EyeRoll Annoyed Sassy GIFs

This is written like a pubescent boy's virginity-induced fantasy.

And then, a few days after they've had sex for the first time, Mary is ashamed for Ponter to see her naked. Really? She's an adult. And they've had sex!!!! But we're to believe she acts like a simpering teenager so embarrassed to have anyone, including her lover, see her without clothes. She was even "embarrassed to see her nipples pushing out against her top."

My eyeballs were rolling a hell of a lot. 

Reason number two for hating this:

2. It's sexist as hell. For instance, females are described as all being "pleasant, cooperative, chatty, collegial instead of competitive, and, all in all, just a whole heck of a lot of fun to be around."

Sometimes we are, sometimes we aren't. The above is what sexist men expect us to be, and want us to be, at all times. And it's bullshit.

3.  Women and other minorities are said to have gotten their positions because they are women or minorities. 

This was hinted at in the first book but I overlooked it. It's explicitly pointed out in this one. Cornelius (who turns out to be a rapist and Ponter discovers it's him by smelling the panties of a woman he raped, eye roll) is said to be highly qualified (he even studied at Oxford!) but cannot get a tenured position at the university because he's a white man. He was "passed over for advancement, and for job security, because of [his] skin tone and gender".

Mary then thinks of how she has her position because: “Well, I’m a woman, but Qaiser really won the lottery when it came to tenure-track appointments in the sciences. She’s a woman and a visible minority. Also concerning Qaiser, a female professor from Pakistan: "She'd had no trouble getting first a tenure-track position, and ultimately actual tenure, while many males of her age were still eking out an existence..."

News alert: white men aren't being passed over for positions because they're white men, and women and minorities aren't being given the jobs that white men really deserve. Affirmative action doesn't force companies to hire women and minorities at the expense of more qualified men. That's the key -- a qualified woman or other minority should not be passed over for a position because of their minority status. It protects minorities from discrimination, or strives to - many qualified individuals are still passed over for jobs and advancements. Women and other minorities are rarely given jobs they aren't highly qualified for.

White men aren't being persecuted. Get over yourself, along with your dick size. 

4.  Only sex between different genders is "real" sex.  Though Ponter had been "satisfied" by his male mate, "It wasn't the same. Physical relations between two men—or two women, for that matter—although equally signs of love, were entertainment, fun. But sex was the act of potential procreation."

OK, so the Neanderthals only have sex with the opposite gender four days out of the month and those days are timed so that it's only when women cannot get pregnant. Once every ten years they align the days so that women can get pregnant. Only four days in ten years. If "real" sex was about procreation, then it wasn't "real" between the women and men 9/10s of the time they had it.

But no, according to the book, it was still "real" sex, whereas sex between people of the same gender is never real.

Just stop, dude. Stop already. You thought you were proving how open-minded you are, making all the Neanderthals bisexual. But you still have heterocentric, outdated, stupid ideas.

I could go on. There are several other reasons why this book was awful, but I'm tired of thinking about it and just want to try to forget I ever read this train wreck. With book one, I thought maybe I'd found a new favorite author. With this one? I don't know if I'll ever be able to read him again.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,844 followers
November 5, 2012
This book is pretty terrible.

I shouldn't have gone on with the series. Now that I'm two thirds of the way through I feel like i should finish it. Just to see where this train wreck is going. It's the book equivalent of slowing down while passing a car wreck, hoping to maybe see a decapitated head.

Another reviewer called out this book as basically being an extended liberal strawman argument. Yeah, it is that.

My friend Ceridwen said something about a part of a Sawyer book she read being like someone who just took an Introduction to Ethics class deciding now going on and on about things. As if they've had some grand epiphany, but really it's just the sort of shit that really isn't that deep. Unless you just never thought before. Yeah, it's like that, too.

This book was nominated for a Hugo Award. Let me repeat that, this book was nominated for a Hugo Award, one of the biggie awards in the Sci-Fi world. Ok, I'm going to repeat this one more time, this book was nominated for a Hugo Award. Once more, this book was nominated for a Hugo Award and the slightly less worse first book in the series won multiple 'prestigious' awards. For better or worse, this is the book I'm going to think about anytime I see people whining about why Sci-Fi doesn't get the respect it deserves, and how it is just as good in quality as Literary Fiction. Maybe it is, but maybe you need to stop putting shit like this up for awards. Maybe hacks like Larry Niven's shouldn't be held up as being anything other than shit-writers who happened to read a couple of science books. Giving nominations to books like this aren't helping the case of getting good sci-fi writers out of the genre ghetto.

I feel like I need to finish the series. I know I don't have to, but I feel committed. Maybe I'll just read the plot synopsis of book three on wikipedia.

According to the author bio on the ebook edition of this that I read, Robert Sawyer is one of the most popular and respected authors in Canada. Poor Canada. This would be pretty much the equivalent of James Patterson announcing himself to be the pinnacle of literary quality in America.

Poor Canada.

Were there good things about the book? Um, yeah. There were still some decent ideas, but they were mostly ones laid out in the first book. There wasn't anything really new added here, in the good ideas department.

Last night, I started reading the third book. I read two chapters of it. I shouldn't have started. The second chapter (or maybe it was the first), had a long paragraph about how great Kentucky Fried Chicken is. It read like ad copy. There are quite a few product placements in these books. I have no evidence, but the way he gushes over certain products it sounds like he is being paid to mention them. Just saying. Which products were placed in this particular book? I don't remember, I think it might have been free of that sort of annoyance. Although Coke is loved by the Neanderthal Romantic-Lead.

Please no more inter-human-species sex. Just say they slept together. I felt very dirty after reading the sex scene in this book. Like I should sandblast off all my skin if I was ever going to feel clean again. Just say they slept together. It's better that way for everyone. It also allows you (the author) to have one less embarrassing moment where you try to give thoughts to an adult female. They don't think like thirteen year old boys, and they have better words for body parts than a giggling eight year old.

I wouldn't recommend reading this.
Profile Image for Laurie.
101 reviews
February 17, 2011
I really love this author and want to read everything he's written. His books are so good that at first I thought his writing was nothing special, generic. This is because I become so wrapped up in his stories and the worlds he creates, I can't extricate myself enough to see his "style" or comment or even remember his particular wording. From page 1, I am immediately absorbed. I like his characters. I care about them. They are all really distinct and do not fall into cliches. While I know who is good and who is more inclined toward evil, all his main characters are complicated enough that they can blur the lines and make human mistakes that I can relate to. And each book presents a world that forces you to reexamine your own preconceived ideas about right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, etc. In Hominids and Humans, for example, a parallel world is accidentally discovered in which the Neanderthals have evolved as the "human" species to rule the earth. A temporary gateway had opened due to a quantum computer error and allows the two "human" species (Homo Sapiens, us, and the Neanderthals) to communicate and visit each others' worlds. While their worlds are geographically identical, their societies are very different. What is most striking is that the Neanderthals have lived and developed without religion or a belief in god or an afterlife. As a result, the Neanderthals' appreciation of life is quite different from ours. With no hope of an afterlife, and no god to judge their actions, they take their day-to-day actions very seriously. Because of their perception that life is precious yet temporary, they have also focused their technology on ensuring everyone's safety so that every human has the potential to live the longest and richest life possible. They are smart, saavy, and gentle creatures--flower children who want to love everyone. Yet, at the same time, they are also capable of spite, malice, jealousy, etc. They are not perfect creatures in any sense. They are still human! But imagine the discussions between the two species as they talk about each others' foci and principles. There are such interesting discourses between the characters around the logic of religion and how it may or may not bring out the best in us. But each side has its points. Sawyer is very good at making sure all sides are adequately represented, so the writing is not pedantic or speechy or trying to get the reader to his own viewpoint. Instead, you get to really think about how you might behave, or what kind of person you might be if your environment were as he describes. The descriptions of the Neanderthals' perception of how we look physically is also surprising. While we value smooth, hairless skin and tiny noses, the Neanderthals find those traits repulsive. To them, we are puny and odd looking, especially the strange bony protrubances at the bottom of our faces (Neanderthals don't have chins). To top it off, there's a love story as one from each species find themselves aligned. And the author is very funny. In my view, Robert Sawyer gets an A Plus for writing books that do everything a book is supposed to do.
Profile Image for Martin Iguaran.
Author 2 books295 followers
July 2, 2021
La continuación de la trilogía, en este caso vemos que los dos universos paralelos establecen una vía de comunicación permanente, lo que permite el establecimiento de relaciones diplomáticas. También vemos cómo el mundo es afectado al descubrir más detalles de la civilización Neanderthal. En paralelo se desarrolla la relación entre Mary y Ponter. La civilización Neanderthal es mejor en casi todos los sentidos posibles: no tienen contaminación, guerras, enfermedades, crimen, discriminación por motivos de raza o género. El autor atribuye este paraíso casi exclusivamente a dos factores: la falta de religión y la purga genética de todos aquellos que cometieron delitos en el pasado. Como hipótesis literaria suena bien, en la realidad me parece que no funcionaría.
Profile Image for Fantasy Literature.
3,226 reviews161 followers
March 13, 2016
Ponter, the Neanderthal from another dimension, is back on Earth – our Earth.

This time, Ponter has brought nearly a dozen of the most celebrated scientists and intellectuals from his world. Though we humans are a difficult bunch to deal with, the Neanderthals seem determined to make contact work. Thank goodness, since a lone gunman on our side shoots a member of their delegation as soon as he gets the chance. Mary, meanwhile, is recruited into an American think tank that is determined to figure out how the Neanderthals and their technology work.

All of this sounds like a very standard science fiction story about complications related to alien contact. Robert J. Sawyer’s Humans, however, is not overly concerned with the complications between the two worlds. It instead focuses on the growing relationship between Ponter and Mary. ... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/revi...
Profile Image for Bruce Kroeze.
13 reviews3 followers
October 4, 2010
The second book in this series. It won awards, though I can't figure out why.

I found the characters to be even more cardboard cutouts than in the first novel. Also, the sharp insight and extrapolations based on science were notably lacking in this one.

Of course, Neanderthals are good in every way. Handsome men with giant units, they are great and sensitive lovers of course, sweet new-age men who pull together for the good of all.

Who wouldn't love this contrived utopia where no animal has ever gone extinct due to humanity's evil nature?

Particularly disturbing were the pages and pages dedicated to the author's obvious (bizarre) political pet ideas:

- Eugenics are good. The human race needs to "weed out the bad genes" by sterilizing criminals, their children and their parents, for the good of the race.

- Castration is an appropriate response to rape. Not only that, but the castrated rapist will come to love his (always a man, of course) new condition, because he won't be bothered by those pesky urges any more.

- As a society, we pay too high a price for privacy. If we'd only give up all of our privacy, we could have a perfect, crime-free world. I actually kept snorting at this. One of his big arguments seems to be that if it weren't for religion, we'd have nothing to be ashamed of, so nothing to hide. See, no religion = no shame = no need for privacy = utopia. What tripe.

I barely finished this one, just a torrent of foolish, juvenile ideas, poorly thought out and presented as the most logical thing in the world. It really reads like the political tract of a naive, sheltered 20-year-old amateur scientist.
Profile Image for Craig.
4,993 reviews116 followers
August 19, 2020
This is the second volume of Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, and continues the exploration and comparisons of the societies and civilizations introduced in Hominids in a thoughtful and compelling fashion. It does not suffer from the second-book-slump that so many middle books of trilogies do at all; the plot moves along and the characters change and develop splendidly. Sawyer is most noted as a hard-sf writer, and this one has a bit of quantum mechanical speculation but the main focus is on the softer science of anthropology. There's quite a bit of religious and moral philosophy and, whether one agrees with him or not, I don't think anyone would find it boring. I thought it was quite thoughtful and challenging, and would rank Ponter Bobbit and Mary Vaughn among Sawyer's very best characters.
Profile Image for mlady_rebecca.
2,157 reviews97 followers
July 4, 2010
This is one of those series that underscores science fiction as speculative fiction. Beyond being a compelling story, it's an amazing forum for social commentary.

By looking at the alternate world where Neanderthals became the dominant human species, rather than homo sapiens, we can easily see many roads not taken, and the consequences that followed. Things like overpopulation, slavery, and certain livestock born diseases would not exist if we were still hunter/gatherers. There would also be more respect for the environment and our elderly.

Then in a completely different thread, there is this idea of religion and belief in an afterlife, and how that shapes us as a society. War is less desirable when we don't think those who die will get their just reward in the hereafter. But on the other hand, that spark is what makes us ask those important questions like "why are we here?" The difference between existing and living.

I love thought experiments presented in this form. They manage to intrigue in a way that makes you so much more receptive to all sorts of facts and theories. The science in the SF is robust but oh so approachable.

But pulling back from the global view, this is also an intimate story of two individuals from two different worlds who find themselves in love. In this second book, Ponter gets to see a lot more of Mary's world, and Mary gets introduced into Ponter's world. And, as much as they love each other, they don't fit as a couple in either world, but both are willing to fight to try to make it work.

Can't recommend this series more. I'm already deep into the third and final book in the trilogy.
Profile Image for Grace Tenkay.
127 reviews32 followers
March 29, 2018
Very entertaining anthropological science fiction with neanderthals the surviving species in an alternate world and species-cross over. Good plot and characters. I'll read the last one in the series too.
Profile Image for Merredith.
1,020 reviews22 followers
August 23, 2011
A couple of years ago, I borrowed an at the time roommate's copy of the first volume in this trilogy. It sets up that way back at the beginning of humanity, earth split into two parallel universes, and in the other, it was us who died out, and neanderthals who became the humans of the world. they accidentally open a portal to canada, and the saga begins. In this second of the three books, the main character Ponter convinces his government to let him reopen the portal, and crosses back into our reality, to try to collaborate. We get to see even more of how they live, which is a kinder gentler way, good to the environment, less people overall, better inventions, less exploring, and the men and women are pretty much segregated except for 4 days out of the year (eek). This book is sort of just setting up for the third, conclusion, but i like seeing our world from his perspective (where we definitely don't come out in a good light, most of the time) and seeing a different, albeit imaginary, culture. I really enjoyed it and cant wait for the next (last I think) book. This book is great for archaeology and anthropology buffs!
50 reviews1 follower
February 3, 2010
More human bashing using our oh so perfect yet totalitarian neanderthal cousins. Simplistic ideas tightly wrapped in bullshit and I wanted the main characters to die. couldn't finish it. Got it as an audiobook, I was sighing and rolling my eyes so much that people around me started taking it personally.
This is sci-fi for congenital idiots.
476 reviews4 followers
April 3, 2018
It is always difficult to make the second book in a trilogy great (no beginning, no end) but I thought this was a worthy addition to the series and left me wanting to read the final book.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
976 reviews69 followers
February 12, 2022
These comments were written back in 2004, when I read the book.

While I probably could have stopped after reading Hominds, this second book in the trilogy leaves a lot of plot threads hanging and really demands I read the third. Fortunately, Hybrids was released in mass market paperback just this month, and I didn't have any trouble finding it in a bookstore.

I guess I expected the romance between Ponter and Mary to heat up, and it certainly does. Meanwhile, we go back and forth between the two worlds, learning a lot more about how the Neanderthal society works. It is fascinatingly presented through the eyes of the uncomfortable and not uninvolved Mary.

I appreciated Ponter's response to viewing the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC; it was very much like my own response the first time I was there. Sawyer's perspective on US/Canadian relations sometimes makes me wonder, since Wisconsin tends towards his notions of Canada, whether my state is in the right country.

On the other hand, Ponter's criminal act, which is alluded to from the beginning of the book, seems out of character to me. I can't really say more here without revealing too much and spoiling some suspense.

I'm giving the book a barely positive review, but will be starting the sequel immediately.
Profile Image for Jorid Sørli.
88 reviews3 followers
March 25, 2017
Wow, that was bad. I guess the author was trying to be profound, but it was falling asleep boring! Nothing new happens in this book and the religous discussion are just anoying and neverending. I only finished because I was on a plane with no internet connection. Bad! Stop with book 1!
207 reviews3 followers
March 6, 2012
An incredible book. My review of the first book in the series was that I was not all that impressed in comparison to some of his other books. This book more than makes up for whatever I felt was lacking in that book. THIS book is pure Sawyer. Pure fiction backed by (seemingly) sound science. And that is just the shell of the plot.

What makes this book so great (as well as some of his others) is the ideas he brings forth from within the main plot. There were some ideas and situations that I was not all that comfortable with in the first book, and in this one also, but he at least respects the reader enough to have made it worth sitting through. I am still a little uncomfortable, but he does not use these situations for shock value. They eventually serve to set up something worthwhile that the author has to say.

The authors insights and willingness to turn normal conventions sideways were enough to rate this book with five stars, but the situations I mentioned before unfortunately bring it back down to four. I am willing to read the next book based on his talent for storytelling and his ability to make me think about the world I live in. But once again, he is on a short leash with me due to some of the events in these books.

Hopefully this third book will due the entire series justice in the way that the second book did to the first.
Profile Image for Badseedgirl.
1,258 reviews62 followers
February 21, 2016
What the hell just happened here? The first book in Robert Sawyer’s “Neanderthal Parallax,” Hominids, was a science fiction exploration of an alternate dimension in which the Neanderthal society became the apex predator, and how this society evolved in a modern day Earth. It won a Hugo award, and if not perfect was at least an entertaining read. It was good enough for me to want to read the second book in the series, Humans.

This second book, well, let’s just say it is not the same. Humans now holds the distinction of being in a very exclusive club, the “Unga-Bunga-Caveman-Sex-Book” club. This exclusive club includes Jean Auel’s “Earth’s Children” series.

Also I suspect this series is rapidly developing into a “Humans are bad, Cavemen are good” book. I’m pretty sure that it is an example of some sort of character flaw in me that in-spite of how bad this series has become, I have already requested the last book, Hybrid from interlibrary loan!

2 of 5 stars.
Profile Image for David.
172 reviews6 followers
January 24, 2011
The story line for this series continues to be interesting but as I continue to read a number of Sawyer's books in rapid succession I am becoming less and less fond of his writing.

Some of it is just annoying. For example, in this book a main character in the story is a female PhD Geneticist who works at York University in Toronto. She is offered a job in Rochester, NY, and asks "That's not far from here, is it?" Doh! It's across the lake from you lady! While in Rochester it is suggested that she go to the UN in NYC. "How far is that from here?" Arggghhhh!!

Later, a character thinks that "it felt about 4 degrees cooler than the Sudbury surface they left behind." Not 5 degrees?? Hmmm, maybe it's only a 3 degree difference.

And Sawyer makes way too many references to story lines in old movies, books, and Star Trek episodes -- tell your own story already! I'll read the 3rd volume in this trilogy now but then it's enough Sawyer for a while...
Profile Image for Wyatt.
11 reviews
September 1, 2021
Throughout the first book and this one, I often found myself struggling to accept Mary’s thoughts and actions. She seems like a forced character who feels what she feels and does what she does just to move the plot along.
But… I did manage to overcome this by looking at her a different way. We all know people who seem to do things out of character, or with no logical reason for their actions, and Mary is no exception. Is she a weakly written character? Maybe (but I’m no expert). Is she a believable character? Well I think so, she’s just not what I expected her to be.

Overall, the themes and subject matter of this series outweigh those potential shortcomings too much for any of that to have any bearing on my enjoyment. On to book three!
Profile Image for The Plimsolls of the Mind.
15 reviews1 follower
March 6, 2011
I had to wait a day or two before I wrote the review for this book.
The first was was amazing and offered such possibility for the exploration of a new world.
This one is such a disappointment.

What it ends up being is a weak romance/rape/revenge novel.
If you're into that kind of thing, you'll dig this series.
If you're a caucasian male and enjoy feeling responsible for all the ills of the world, this will tickle your guilt as well.

I finished it and am curious to see if the last one redeems the series at all.
Profile Image for Dan Carey.
683 reviews11 followers
September 14, 2017
This was an enjoyable-enough novel. But Robert Sawyer has set his bar so high that I was mildly disappointed in this one. Still, it was nice to get more details on the Neanderthal world.
Profile Image for Margaret.
148 reviews4 followers
February 21, 2018
Really good Sci Fi. Second book in the series was as good as the first. Now on to the third.
This is an alternate universe story and it is extremely well done.
Profile Image for prcardi.
538 reviews74 followers
October 18, 2019
Storyline: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Writing Style: 2/5
World: 1/5

I think that I can see what readers like about Sawyer’s books without appreciating them myself. Humans, like Hominids (and just about everything else I’ve read from Sawyer) is very casual. The prose is easy to read, the writing straightforward; the story seldom leaves the reader in confusion or uncertainty; the science and science fiction is explained in such a way to let one believe they understand it (or at least enough of it to move on with acceptance); Sawyer comes across as someone concerned with fairness, and he touches on hot-button socio-political issues of the day with what I’m sure he thinks of as objectivity. There’s a slow-paced political thriller element to both books in this series, aiming to satisfy the desires of those craving something contemporary and dramatic.

I just don’t react very positively to any of those. The casual comes off to me as unambitious. The prose is easy because it is never demanding (I finished this one in about one fourth of the time it takes me for an average science fiction or fantasy book of equivalent word count). There are no great revelations. The different scientific expositions are both too numerous and too superficial (One superficial exposition to move the plot along – fine, I can understand that. A dozen superficial expositions on different topics – you’re just reading journal abstracts and literature reviews in hopes of implying depth by waving around breadth.). The evenhandedness is so forced that it is awkward; the debate on hot-button issues is caricatured. The slow-pace does not deliver careful construction, rich description, or deep character development; the political thriller is neither thorough with the politics nor rich in thrill.

This was considerably worse than the first book in the series. Usually the best part of a Sawyer book is the original, provocative premise. There was no such premise here. All that merit was used up in the first, and there was nothing in this one to compensate. Almost every drama in here was a repeat of ones used in the last book. Almost every observation on human society and politics from the first made it into this one as well. A lot of the inner turmoil and “growth” of the characters was just awful. Script of a day-time soap-opera kind of awful.

I’m willing to become a Sawyer fan. There are obviously lots of them, given the number of times he has been nominated for science fiction awards. But its going to have to be Sawyer that changes because I’m not going to grow to like this kind of stuff. Since this was the last book of the series nominated for the Hugo Award (my motivation for reading it); I’ll be leaving the series here. Sawyer foreshadows some mystery and drama at the end of this one, but my curiosity to know what happened is just not as strong as my distaste for the first two in this series.
Profile Image for Michael Battaglia.
530 reviews45 followers
May 28, 2018
Do you believe in love? Do you believe in a love that transcends cultural differences? Do you believe in a love that defies a separate evolutionary path shunted to a parallel earth that requires complicated math to even properly explain how it may be possible in the first place?

If so, then might have come to the place where all your dreams are realized. If not then, ah, I guess its back to swiping on the app.

The first book in Robert Sawyer's "Neanderthals are people, too!" trilogy caught my attention with an interesting concept and a fascinating portrayal of a possible alternative future for a planet run by brilliant bisexual hippies, then slowly over the course of three hundred pages lost my attention by focusing on a love affair that only becomes plausible if you eliminate every other possible person for the particulars to fall in love with.

That attempt at happily-ever-after unfortunately was cut short when Neanderthal Ponter Boddit was able to make it back home to a world that smells more of mammoth dung instead of car exhaust, leaving behind Professor Lonelyhearts herself, Mary Vaughan. Thus things were to stay, perhaps forever.

Ponter coped by basically going back to what he was doing before he got sucked into the house of horrors we call post-20th century history and Mary coped by . . . pining for Ponter every day. Fortunately for her quantum physics has an "in" with Cupid apparently as Ponter and his fellow Neanderthals decide to reopen the gate so they can start having some cultural exchanges, at least until they realize that the campaign to burn every extant copy of "Encino Man" wasn't totally successful.

What follows then is a rehash of pretty much everything that bored me about the first book. While Ponter and Mary have a tender reunion (though her and part time researcher and full time hottie Louise are working for a government think tank that experience has taught us can only be totally above board) we get treated to more of Humanity's Greatest Hits as the Neanderthals once again fail to understand religion (illogical!), our attitude toward the environment (nonexistent!), privacy (who needs it?), and our tendency to blow each other up for reasons that aren't always the most well thought out. Again, Sawyer doesn't bring much to the table other than "we suck" which anyone who's paid the slightest attention to the last couple hundred years of history will have a hard time disagreeing with. None of the humans that he talks to seem to have the ability to muster up a good defense so it doesn't even make for a riveting discussion when the other person is basically agreeing with all the Neanderthals' observations. Except for one darkly amusing moment when Ponter sees how many wars have been fought and goes to look up the casualty details expecting to see body counts in the hundreds does the book show a side that I would have liked to see more of. I'm okay with a bleak satire of the human condition but if you're going to go there, go all the way.

And of course if that wasn't enough to make me nostalgic then we also revisit that other pillar of my dismay, Mary's attraction for Ponter. With Ponter's presence now basically front and center any shred of personality that Mary once possessed falls by the wayside as only two things become important about her: that she feels Ponter is the perfect man for her and she's still coping with her rape in the first volume (its also unfortunately brought up on nearly every other page). And while a psychiatrist could probably have a field day with her feelings toward men, with her gradual backslide into a vessel containing only love for Ponter (who is strong and sensitive and courteous and caring and loyal, to the point where you wonder if his wife snuck those sections in to try and tell him something) you start getting the feeling that you're reading a geek's version of "Twilight". That it culminates with a sex scene that's almost hilariously graphic shouldn't surprise you as the lonely repressed woman learns how to love again.

What the book still doesn't adequately explain in why Ponter sees her as anything than a science buddy. The book paints Mary as having basically no options even before she was sexually assaulted and lost all trust in Homo sapiens men but back home Ponter not only has a man-mate but two daughters and a whole host of other Neanderthal women to choose from, despite still mourning the wife he lost a few years ago. When he was trapped on our world it was one thing but he's clearly not a radical misfit outsider among his people so its unclear why Mary even appeals to him. Which would be fine, we've had "grain of salt" romances in SF before, but in this case the entire book hinges on you buying this scenario, especially as the focus is basically "will their love survive?"

Its redeemed by the sections set in NeanderLand, which Sawyer continues to resolutely treat as a relative paradise without offering even the smallest bits of criticism that might make it look a little less like he's stacking the deck (you could nitpick at some of his extrapolation choices, my personal beef is the idea that the Companions could have transformed society so utterly in such a relatively short period of time . . . you could point to the rise of smartphones but even those aren't as pervasive as what we see here), but even with the endless love for their pastorally scientific way of life it at least gives us something to consider. And as interesting as their utopian expectations of no privacy and Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes are, the parts where the book works best for me is highlighting the cultural differences, especially the interpersonal and sexual dynamics that underpin their entire society. It showcases a different way of looking at how to live and the more time the book spends exploring that world the more interesting it gets.

However, it can't help but shoot down its own efforts by making it mostly about how Mary feels weirdly jealous and threatened by Ponter being openly bisexual (even if his relationship with Adikor is genuinely touching and sincere) or the potential for other Neanderthal women to be interested in him. Again, this would be more tolerable if it was a sideshow to the plot but with the broader Neanderthal outreach efforts sort of shunted to the side, the book goes all-in on Mary and Ponter, to the detriment of pretty much everything.

It culminates as you'd logically expect (considering the tone of the framing conversations between Ponter and a psychiatrist of his own people) with a full-on veering into revenge territory where Ponter uncorks his inner Liam Neeson for Mary's sake in a climax that is perhaps viscerally satisfying on a primal level while being a little too gleefully sadistic, as if he didn't want to sully the character too much with the obvious outcome and so went with the next dubiously best thing.

Definitely a mixed bag, breathless hyperbole of the back cover copy aside, the ideas are definitely worth delving into but its wrapped in a package that seems to go out of its way to dilute those same ideas into a goopy mix that boils down to "girl meets slightly hairier boy". It might as well be a parallel world of bisexual hippie vampires.
Profile Image for Leigh Kimmel.
Author 50 books10 followers
March 31, 2022
One of the problems of the second book in a series is needing to equal, or better, to top what had been presented in the first volume. In Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer presented us with an alternate world in which Neanderthals rather than modern humans were the creators of civilization -- a civilization very different from our own, a civilization based upon hunting and gathering rather than agriculture, but which had sophisticated AI without visible industrial development -- and made us believe it.

This book is handled a little differently from the first one. Rather than being a straightforward account of the reopening of the quantum bridge that connected the two worlds, it is presented as short segments of memory between the pieces of Ponter's interview with a memory sculptor, what we would call a psychologist or psychiatrist. Ponter has done something terrible, and he acknowledges that he has transgressed, but that if he had a chance to live his life over again, he would do it again -- which sounds very like he was dealing with a situation in which the legal system and the moral law are not congruent.

The rest of the book is a journey through cultural differences as Mary and Ponter explore the possibility of a future together, with the shadow of Mary's rape hanging over them. When another woman on York's campus is raped, and then Mary's carefully preserved samples are stolen from the lab freezer, the stakes ratchet up. Mary is consumed by guilt -- if only she'd reported the rape immediately, perhaps the second woman could've been spared the trauma.

But trying to do the right thing can sometimes go badly awry. And that's doubly so when one is also dealing with a vast chasm of cultural differences.

I would've liked to have given it one more star, but there were several places where the text became preachy in a way that really disrupted my immersive experience. I really wish the author could've done as well as Orson Scott Card or JRR Tolkien in incorporating his most deeply-held beliefs into the story without them coming across as a great big spoonful of medicine that's Good For You.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,318 reviews399 followers
September 2, 2021
2.5 stars rounded up because I am going to finish the trilogy, and there are some interesting ideas hidden under the mess. Maybe it was better when it was new, and the ideas were ones that most of us hadn't thought enough about yet. But now, well, I agree with most of the negative reaction in this one star review:


The big thing that I disagree with is that the reviewer attributes the characters' perspectives to the author. For example, I'm pretty sure that Sawyer does *not* agree with Cornelius that Cornelius deserved the positions that Mary and the other women got.

Sawyer does say that most Christians don't believe in Satan. Mary, a fairly devout Catholic, says the concept is ridiculous. Of course Ponter and I think God is ridiculous, too... but anyway I'll have to look that up.

I also agree that if the President wants to declare war they should do so, not in their cozy office, but right in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Wall. Take the responsibility for the next long list of names. I've been the the Wall and it is damned powerful... I know none of the names nor even families thereof, but still I cried.
Profile Image for Chan Fry.
227 reviews6 followers
January 7, 2020

This was just as enjoyable to read as Book 1 in the series (Hominids), and very deftly carried the story along on a few expected paths but also a couple of surprising ones.

Sawyer found in this world-building exercise a perfect framework on which to hang social commentary, and he does an amazing job of representing both viewpoints of us (Homo sapiens) and the other (Neanderthals) as the two cultures begin a deeper interaction.

Speaking of “deeper interaction”, the only part of the book I wasn’t fond of was the sex scene (!is that a spoiler?!), but this is probably due more to my own personality defects than to any fault of Sawyer’s.

(I have published a longer review on my website.)

Profile Image for Juan Arellano.
104 reviews8 followers
January 30, 2020
In short: I didn't like it. This second part of The Neanderthal Parallax, the series that started with Hominids, has almost nothing of the good elements the first novel had. In fact, it looks more like a romantic novel in a futuristic environment. But well, I'll go for the third part to see if it improves or what.


Dicho en corto: no me gustó. Esta segunda parte de El Paralaje Neandertal, la serie iniciada con Homínidos, no tiene casi nada de lo bueno que tenía la primera. De hecho más parece una novela romántica en un ambiente futurista. Pero bueno, igual iré por la tercera parte a ver si mejora o qué.
Profile Image for Jeff Clausen.
271 reviews
November 23, 2022
An unconventional read for me, second in a trilogy called the Neanderthal Parallax, this is science fiction that fascinates. Imagine if, way back when, the Neanderthals became the dominant Homo species, not us. That’s what this author did, sort of. There are still Homo Sapiens, but we’re living on an alternate Earth. At any rate, I recommend this as a change to your normal fare, or if you already read sci-fi, to broaden your horizons. Either way, there’s some great observations regarding our way of living versus a possible improved method for treating our planet and each other.

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